MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
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Fiction


Of Graybirds and Power

Ann McDermott

It is said that there was once a time when two Graybird grasshoppers sat near one another in the same basil bush on a hot, summer’s afternoon. The aroma of crushed basil filled the air as the two insects chewed their lunch.

One grasshopper was an adult. He was three inches long, grayish-brown in color, had short antennae, a cream-colored-central stripe running from the top of his head to where his wings sprouted from his thorax, and faint barring on his well-muscled femur. Yes, femur. He only had one, having lost a leg to a bird days before. He would not live to see another season.

The other was an inch smaller in length, bright green in color and had no wings. He was a Graybird nymph, an immature, with several more molts to go before reaching adulthood. He would accomplish this by winter and if it were a mild one he’d survive until spring, the season of his birth this year, after a good, drenching visit by Rain. The moisture that April had helped him break out of his egg by softening Earth, in which he was buried, allowing him to force his tiny, but fully-formed grasshopper body upward to light.

Now, he ate and grew. Mostly, he ate.

The old one eyed the spring-green youth. He adjusted his position on the basil branch he grasped, wobbling clumsily due to his handicap. The neophyte watched back, pitying his elder’s difficulties. How will this crippled one escape next time, he wondered?

“I am not out of danger yet,” he said, as if he’d heard the juvenile’s thought. “But there are some perils that are behind me. Yours are still before you, and I’m considering whether I should warn you of one of them.”

“If it’s something I can avoid, I would appreciate the warning,” Young Grasshopper said. “If it cannot be avoided--well, I would still appreciate the warning.”

The oldster chuckled, pleased by the youth’s answer. “I can’t promise you can escape it, but perhaps you could, if you recognize the signs. Yes, perhaps escape is possible if you know what to look for and have someplace to slip away to. Still, it is an experience you might want. Like all things, I suppose, there is the good and bad of it.”

“What are you talking about?” asked the nymph. “Tell me so I can choose for myself.”

Old Grasshopper stared intently at his companion, amazed by his clarity and confidence. Perhaps this one can choose, he thought. Perhaps he will find a way.

“There is an enormous strength within,” he began. “It is huge and powerful, but also destructive. As we sit now, with enough to eat and no overcrowding, we are one thing. We act as we are acting now. We recognize and expect this of ourselves.”

“I do think of myself in particular ways,” said the green adolescent. “Do you mean there are times I might not recognize myself?”

“I mean there are things about yourself you do not know. They are hidden until we grasshoppers are gathered together in regions where our numbers are too great for the food available. When we starve and scramble over one another for food, a great change comes over us. When our hind legs are bumped and brushed by others of our kind--several contacts per minute, over a period of four hours--a rush of serotonin is released in our bodies. This chemical makes us strangers to ourselves. Our color changes; we eat more, and we breed more easily. No matter how many of us there are, we fly as one. We ravage the countryside in our hunger, destroying everything within reach. We can fly three hundred miles at a stretch, as a cloud that hides Sun from those below. It is rumored that one such flight, across a great ocean, is how we got to this fair land. Our people originated on another continent.”

“Three hundred miles!” marveled the youth. “Having no wings at all, I can’t imagine it!”

“Alone we are grasshoppers; together we are locusts,” continued the senior. “The power of locusts is beyond imagination. It must be experienced to be believed.”

“And you have? You know this wonderful side of yourself?” asked immature Graybird.

“I have. I have felt the power. I have felt it flow through me, change me, into something unthinkingly destructive, yet stronger than anything I’d ever known. We flew miles and miles, eating fields and forests in our path, leaving Earth uninhabitable for ourselves and most other life.”

“How did it end? How is it you are here now to tell the tale?” asked the nymph distrustfully.

“As we migrated, our numbers became fewer and fewer. Some creatures crushed us defending their homes. Some ate us. Some of us tired and fell from the sky, weak and wingworn. After our reign of terror, I crawled under the root of a tree and in my muddleheadedness and exhaustion, could not find my way out. In my dark hole, I returned to myself. I became a grasshopper once again. I was one of the few who survived to do that. Most died as locusts, unable to break the chains of their communal mindlessness. I persisted, with the memories of both the glory and the insanity. I don’t know why. Perhaps so I could tell you.”

“The energy to cross oceans and whole continents,” gasped the amazed youth.

“And at the same time, destroy entire ecosystems,” responded the ancient insect.

“Can I have the power without wreaking havoc?” asked the younger.

“Such does not seem to be our nature,” assured the elder.

“When Graybirds gather in numbers, beware. Then it is time for you to choose. Will you mingle and be swept away by mass-mind? Or will you remain an individual and think for yourself? Now you know the possibilities. Now you can choose. I did not know, so I had no choice. But you do. You are aware.”

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